Joe Pontillo’s “Social Media Killed The Super Villain” Is The Funniest YouTube Short You Haven’t Seen
By Matt Levy
“A lot of people believe the Millennials are responsible for killing the supervillain industry but personally I think it was the internet.
“Actually it was me. I did it to myself.”
This is the opening line to writer and director Joe Pontillo’s brilliant 18-minute mockumentary Social Media Killed The Super Villain spoken by supervillain Hank E. Valdooer. While it is a funny and poignant quip, it’s also a particularly insightful observation about cancel culture. We are often the architects of our own demise. Not the internet.
In Pontillo’s zippy short , we meet Valdooer (played with pompous grandeur by Adam Gennari), a supervillain who has pivoted from thwarting the virtuous to peddling sponsored content on YouTube with unboxing videos and hawking makeup products like all major accounts do. However, it’s soon revealed that Hank’s company “Evilora” has been testing products on animals. This leads to a banishment from his influencer lifestyle; Hank needs to go back to his evil roots to get his fanbase back and reverse his cancellation.
After checking with some of the other main characters through a series of interviews and flashbacks, Hank decides to meet with a lawyer for the cancelled (played with blowhard gusto by Pontillo himself) who might be able to help them with their current predicament.
Comic and fellow content creator Todd Montesi described the short as “Goodfellas for the YouTubers generation” which is quite a feat because SMKTSV was the first time Pontillo wrote, directed, and edited something on this scale and managed to pull off a look and feel akin to a live action comic book. Usually Pontillo “stands over someone’s shoulder like a lunatic during the editing process but this time it was nice to change it up and actually sit down during editing.” Pontillo said he still made sure he got his usual amount of pacing in though.
Pontillo, a Valley Stream, Long Island native who currently resides in Brooklyn, has been building toward this project for years. Growing up, the writer/director/actor was a creative and funny oddball but also shy, awkward and a bit oblivious. As he puts it, “I was not cool enough for the cool kids in high school but not weird enough for the weird kids. I was somewhere in the middle.” After his time in the middle, Pontillo found his groove producing videos, sketches and a few semi-watchable films. Pontillo began performing stand up comedy at 21 but wishes he would have waited a few years. He was naive and thought he would only need to do a handful of shows before being discovered. As a result, Pontillo forgot to write an act or do any research about the business other than watch the Seinfeld documentary Comedian.
For a short while, Joe joked that the proudest moment of his career was “Any time a Facebook status broke 50 likes.”
However, his comedy career began to take off in 2017 when he first appeared on AXS TV’s ‘Gotham Comedy Live’ and then recorded his hour long debut special Delete Your Account which can be seen on Amazon here. The special is a love letter to Pontillo’s love/hate relationship with comedy best encapsulated in the set by an absurd story about when Joe lost a comedy competition to a guy who gave up halfway through his performance.
While getting as much stage time as he could (He once did over 400 sets in a year but regrets most of them) Pontillo continued writing and directing short films. In fact, a few of these shorts centered around Hank E. Valdooer who has existed since 2008 when he made a cameo in a zombie movie of Pontillo’s. Joe never forgot about the Orson Welles-like villain. Over the years Hank appeared in sketches, a Christmas special, and even a feature length film in 2014.
However, Pontillo wanted to do something else with the character but was stuck on coming up with a fresh angle. Then, one day, his wife said, “What if Hank became a YouTube influencer?” Joe exclaimed, “Omg, yes!” That combined with his sudden urge to film a crew assembly montage became the basis for this project.
Pontillo wrote the short in late 2019, was looking to shoot in spring 2020 and then the week he was thinking about reaching out to his cast for a read-through the entire world shut down.
So, Pontillo threw the script in the garbage but luckily saved a digital copy on his computer. Between March and August, he returned to the screenplay a few times which allowed him to add background gags and develop a better pace, found himself inspired by The Boys as well as What We Do In The Shadows and made edits to make sure he addressed current events. Finally in September, Pontillo got everyone together for a table read, a week later the crew shot test footage and soon after they began filming.
Pontillo wrote and rewrote the screenplay up until the day before shooting and even then continued to rewrite several scenes along the way. According to Pontillo the writing process isn’t over until you actually shoot something and even then you’re only possibly finished. Joe describes his writing process as chaotic, often filming sketches with just an idea in mind and not an actual script.
The project was shot mostly on weekends and wrapped some time in November with a release on December 16th. It was shot entirely on Joe’s phone which is especially great because he could easily listen to footage in his car as he was driving from one location to another.
In perhaps the “most 2020 moment” of production, Pontillo needed to reshoot a scene because of sound issues and also because he came up with a much funnier line. Rather than going back to the location and reshoot, Joe thought on his feet, moved the scene to a different location, reshot and edited the updated piece into the project all in the same night. What makes this most impressive is he did this while waiting to perform on a Zoom comedy festival. He had a great set that night too (Official sources claim otherwise).
Pontillo added that “There are benefits to pandemic film production.” As he puts it, “I feel lucky I can message a friend and ask if they can record themselves laughing maniacally for a super villain Zoom call or do a quick bit for a fictional YouTube channel and they’ll say yes without asking any real questions about the scene or project.”
This led to quite a few fun appearances in Social Media Killed The Supervillain by New York City comedy favorites like Neil Rubenstein, Todd Montesi and Freddy G. Other key characters in the film include Larry, Hank’s henchman and sidekick who moonlights as a barista and answers his mother’s calls for him in the film’s funniest gag as well as Sharon (Jacqueline Olszewski), Hank’s fed up friend who works at City Hall.
Amazingly, many of the actors wore many hats during the production. Star Adam Gennari, operated the camera AND provided sound equipment when he wasn’t on screen. Pontillo’s wife, Jacqueline Olszewski, designed and created every prop and logo in the film while also playing a lab tech.
This was Pontillo’s baby though. He somehow wrote, directed and managed to play five characters. His most notable role is the attorney at Pontillo & Associates who spouts instant classic lines like, “Bitcoin is literally the currency of villains.” In fact, this character has been the star of several sketches over the last few years and only seems to increase in popularity. “Luckily, there’s always a new thing for my law firm to pretend to specialize in.” says Pontillo.
It was the first time Pontillo crossed over these characters since they technically don’t exist in the same universe. Pontillo added, “Of course there is a Hank Cinematic Universe and Joe Pontillo Cinematic Universe which is a fact that the internet totally needs to know!” This was kind of Pontillo’s ‘Infinity War’ minus the whole blockbuster movie thing.
Some diehards may be aware of this but Pontillo quipped about his fanbase that “Most of them are in hiding.” He has always had a base of family, friends, comics, and “Twitter randos” who enjoy his work. While 2020 was technically a bad year, Pontillo is thankful to have had the time to work on more video content which allowed him to grow his base more than in previous years.
Next up for SMKTSV, Pontillo plans on submitting his short to a few festivals and hopes this serves as a launching point to explore more stories with these characters and its expanding universe. In fact it is streaming now for the next month as part of the Quarantini Monthly Film Festival.
On a larger scale, in five years, Joe hopes to be at the peak of his creativity or at the very least running the NYC comedy scene like a crime boss.
If you’re craving more of Pontillo’s work after watching this short on repeat, we recommend checking out his YouTube channel where he is constantly releasing new videos, his podcast “Comedy Sucks!” he hosts with his friend Brian Hogan and his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And of course, don’t forget about his special on Amazon.
Also, as Joe says, “Follow me on Myspace!”